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How does product management differ between a small and large company?

4 Answers
Adrianne Wang Martinson
Adrianne Wang Martinson
Airbnb Head of Product, China PlatformMay 13

A product management role varies from company to company, and size of the company is subjective. I will share my point of view, assuming a small company has less than 50 employees and a large company has more than 500 employees, in several dimensions.

Ownership and Scope

In large companies, product managers often own established areas, like a feature or feature sets. Large collaborations are required with other product managers for alignment and dependencies. It is unlikely to have opportunities to build something from 0 to 1 but more so to enhance or redefine the goals for features.

The scope of product management is also well defined as many functions, including product marketing, design, data science, content, and UX researchers, will support the product management function. If you want to focus on core product management, then it is a plus that you have great support functions.

In small companies, product managers often own business lines or several product areas. Also, figuring out a viable business model by identifying markets and capturing value from the target customers are critical. Thus, Product Managers need to find the market fit, carve out product solutions, and iterate quickly. The scope of product management is often broader, requiring them to lean in more with limited support, so they might need to analyze the market, conduct user research, form product and marketing strategy, define a product MVP, set up A/B testing and pull data themselves.

Product develop cycle, processes and collaboration

Large companies often have structured processes in place, so product managers can either follow or improve on them. A common challenge that product managers who work for larger companies have is to get consent on product direction from leadership and stakeholders. The development cycle for the product is longer as there is overhead to collaborate among many different teams and functions before product planning is finalized.

For small companies, it is highly possible the processes needed for many areas are ambiguous, and the product manager needs to build or enhance them quickly. While less effort is needed to get consent on product direction like product managers for large companies, the product managers for small companies need to figure out ways to come up with product direction using more limited market analysis, customer feedback and data than large companies might have.

Small or Large company?

Product managers who are mission driven, enjoy ambiguous work and a faster paced environment - and are excited to take more risk for bigger returns - are a good fit for small companies.

For ones who want to have a very well defined scope, enjoy following processes and need a stable income with a good work and life balance, large companies are more suitable for your needs.

1014 Views
Ibrahim Bashir
Ibrahim Bashir
Amplitude Vice President, Product ManagementJuly 8

I think the PM role can be very narrow when there are many fully staffed cross-functional partners with expertise across engineering / UX / testing / data / marketing, which leaves the PM as a dot connector and customer proxy (i.e. large company). And when many of those partner functions don't exist (i.e. small company), the PM can become a jack-of-all-trades. 

Neither is better per se, they just offer different learning opportunitie.

269 Views
Rodrigo Davies
Rodrigo Davies
Asana Director of Product Management, AIApril 5

It's important to differentiate size of company and stage of company here, although there are some overlaps.

The larger a company, the more stakeholders a PM needs to manage, and the more important it is to scale impact by having defined processes that speed up decisions and drive alignment. PMs are usually the folks who design and run these processes, so at a larger company that becomes a greater part of the role.

The more mature a company, the more the role of PM is dealing with known problems and metrics, and optimizing the product's performance within those bounds. At an earlier stage company (e.g. pre-product-market fit), there are many more unknowns and more incomplete information, so it's more important for PMs to move quickly and creatively to validate/invalidate hypotheses, and be prepared to pivot their (and the company's) thinking regularly. Of course there are lots of mature companies launching new business lines or trying new strategies, where those early stage PM skills will be essential.

348 Views
Aleks Bass
Aleks Bass
Typeform Chief Product OfficerMarch 20

When looking at the landscape of product management across different scales of companies, it's evident that the core principles remain consistent: understand your users, solve their problems, and deliver value. However, the application of these principles and the day-to-day realities of product management can differ significantly between small and large companies. These differences are shaped by various factors, including organizational structure, resource availability, and strategic focus.

In Small Companies

  • Agility and Flexibility: Small companies often benefit from being able to move quickly. Decisions can be made rapidly without the need for extensive bureaucratic processes. This agility allows product teams to iterate on feedback more swiftly, often leading to a closer relationship with the end-users.

  • Resource Constraints: Smaller teams and budgets mean that prioritization is critical. Product managers in small companies must be adept at making tough choices about where to focus efforts, often relying on a mix of quantitative data (like user engagement metrics) and qualitative insights (such as customer interviews) to inform these decisions.

  • Broader Roles: In a small company, a product manager might wear multiple hats, handling tasks that range from market research to user experience design to data analysis. This breadth requires a versatile skill set and a deep understanding of both the product and the business.

  • Direct Impact: The contributions of individual team members can have a significant and immediate impact on the product and the company's direction. This direct influence can be incredibly satisfying but also means that there's less room for error.

In Large Companies

  • Specialization and Depth: Large companies often have the luxury of more specialized roles within the product team. This specialization allows product managers to focus deeply on specific aspects of the product, such as user research, data analysis, or strategy.

  • Structured Processes: With size comes complexity, and large organizations tend to have more formalized processes for product development, including rigorous data analysis, A/B testing at scale, and detailed go-to-market strategies. These processes can slow down decision-making but help manage risk across a larger product portfolio.

  • Cross-functional Coordination: Product managers in large companies frequently navigate complex internal landscapes, working with multiple teams and stakeholders. Success often hinges on effective cross-functional collaboration, informed by both data-driven arguments and relationship-building skills.

  • Long-term Strategic Focus: With more resources, large companies can afford to invest in longer-term initiatives. Product management may focus not only on immediate user needs but also on setting the stage for future growth, leveraging extensive market data, trend analysis, and competitive intelligence.

Conclusion

While the essence of product management—understanding and solving user problems—remains constant, the context in which product managers operate can vastly change based on the company's size. Each environment offers unique challenges and opportunities, with the scale influencing everything from the speed of decision-making to the depth of specialization. Regardless of the size, success in product management always comes back to effectively driving value for users and the business.

369 Views
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